April 21, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Musical Cartography

Check out this cool thing: World Beat Music, a map of the world (Mercatur projection) transposed into musical notation. Be sure to listen to the audio file, or you’ll miss what it sounds like when played.

Since I heard the piece on Saturday, I keep thinking about the map/score. The metaphorical ground is obviously rich; apparently there are places of natural harmony, places of cacophony, places of discord, and whenever any one country sounds, so do the countries on its line of longitude. All of which could be said about the earth itself.

But what’s more interesting to me is the translation of a symbolic system, the map, into an experience–the looping song that just is and doesn’t need to be read. (Related, by my lights: the poetry pavilion Kristen linked to, in which a poem remains a poem, but also becomes part of a smile-inducing spatial and temporal experience).

If we really are in the Twilight of the Books, if our young are not achieving the interpretive skill set that comes with advanced literacy, if we will entertain ourselves more and more with streaming sounds and images, and less and less with words, maybe what the future calls for are kinds of poetry that can be spatially and temporally experienced, like the map and the pavilion. This kind of poetry, it seems, would have something in common with contemporary art.

For me, the appeal of text-as-experience (as I will provisionally call works like the map and the pavilion) is not just intellectual. If it doesn’t delight or provoke me as a reader/watcher/listener/participant, then what’s the point? I’m usually not one to enjoy experiment for experimentation’s sake; I herald the old far more often than the new. (Most of the time I suspect the so-called new is actually just more of the same.)

Maybe it’s because I read, interpret, edit, and interact virtually all day long that I am so taken with the idea of art that works in time and space. Maybe the burgeoning of time-based, experiential kinds of poetry will have nothing to do with the supposed decline of reading. Maybe it will have more to do with a pronounced desire for experiences in a world that is growing more and more virtual.

Is it already out there? Probably, in places I’m not cool enough to know about. I make a bold prediction: there will be more. I’m not sure what it will look like, but I’ll be keeping an eye out.